As a retired military leader, I can easily and honestly say that a life in service to one’s country is a privilege and an honor unlike any other most Americans will ever experience. Without a doubt, the families of our women and men in uniform serve their country as well—nearly to the extent of the service member him or herself. And I really believe it’s important to recognize their service as it comes with hardships, challenges, and sacrifices unknown to the vast numbers of communities and families that comprise our great nation.
My primary role as the Senior Enlisted Advisor of the National Guard Bureau from 2010 to 2013 was to give voice to the issues and needs facing not only the more than 450,000 enlisted soldiers and airmen serving in our Guard, but their families as well. And I learned more during my relatively short tenure with the Bureau about what makes military families the bedrock of our society than I had in all of the previous 27 years of my military career.
I use the term, “bedrock,” because life in a military family is hard, demanding, and often unforgiving. But the military family unit is also the foundation beneath the greatest force of warriors willing to give the ultimate sacrifice—their lives—for our protection and freedom. What an awesome, awesome, awesome responsibility these families assume as their wives, husbands, fathers, mothers leave the comfort of our nation for a destination from which they know they might not return. And, yes, all-too-often we focus on families and overlook the hundreds of thousands of single women and men who leave behind relationships, parents, brothers, sisters, and children—the toll on all is equally high.
But these individuals who make up our global community of military families are proud. They are brave. They are courageous. And our debt to them is immeasurable.
Now, while I was honored to serve as the representative for so many of our enlisted personnel and their family members, I was also one of them. So, from my perspective, I am doubly-blessed to have lived the life of both service member and family member. My husband was an active duty Marine and I served in the National Guard. I can remember back in 1990 when he deployed. He was on the ship for six months. And back then what did we do? We wrote letters. Long, beautiful, and numbered (yes, I said numbered) letters. We numbered our letters because they never came in order. So, to really understand the full story of our loved one’s lives and experiences, we improvised . . . with numbered letters.
When he deployed as our daughter was still very young, so we improvised again. Before he shipped off, we would sit together, in front of a roaring fire, glasses of wine in our hands, and—you guessed it 😊—a cassette recorder between us. He read story books into the microphone that would play night after night after night while he was away. In a distant and often dangerous land, my husband, Ashley’s father, was reading her to sleep, comforting her—and me—with his voice. For the dual existence as airman and mother, I consider myself—to this day—to be one of the luckiest people who has ever lived.
While Facetime, Skype, and Viber have replaced cassette recorders and email has made letter-writing a lost art, the separation is still the same. The continual moves to new posts with the accompanying new and strange living quarters, schools, church communities, etc., life for our military families remains hard, full of challenges, and replete with sacrifices. You still worry about the loved one who is 8,000 miles from home and, imagine this, the man or woman serving their country is equally worried about those at home.
While a life dedicated to service–whether military or family member—comes with sacrifice, the personal and professional rewards far outweigh any hardships. And it’s because of this way of life that I’ll close my blog by saying one more time: our debt as a nation to our military families—each and every member of those families—simply goes beyond measure.